Luke Chapter 19:11

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I did not set out with the intention of doing an entire post on a single verse. In fact, this was meant to go straight through to Verse 27; however, the comment on Verse 11 grew to the point that splitting it off seemed to be a wise move. I will include it with the next post as well, just for the sake of continuity.

So with that as a means of a (brief) introduction, let’s get to the

Text

11 Ἀκουόντων δὲ αὐτῶν ταῦτα προσθεὶς εἶπεν παραβολὴν διὰ τὸ ἐγγὺς εἶναι Ἰερουσαλὴμ αὐτὸν καὶ δοκεῖν αὐτοὺς ὅτι παραχρῆμα μέλλει ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἀναφαίνεσθαι.

They having heard these things he spoke an added parable, on account (of) being near to Jerusalem and it seemed to them that the kingdom of God was to be immediately apparent.

So after saying how a lot of commentary shouldn’t be required, immediately at the start we run into a really interesting statement and so we have to break for a comment. “For it seemed to them that the Kingdom of God was to be immediately apparent“. We can infer that those who heard these things were his immediate followers, those traveling with him. To refresh memories, this comes immediately after Jesus had said that salvation had come to the house of Zaccheus. The question then becomes, “why did they think that the Kingdom was to be immediately apparent?” Are we to assume it was related to the incident with Zaccheus? If it’s not thus connected, then what? Here’s something to bear in mind.

Luke is the first evangelist who had knowledge of Paul; at least, that is true if indeed Luke/Acts are from the same author. If we go back to some of Paul’s epistles, we should recall that in some of these, Paul was fully expecting the kingdom any day, or even at any hour. Did Luke infer that the early disciples felt that way as well? If Paul felt that way, why wouldn’t the original followers have shared that sense of imminence? Is that what we have here? Luke channeling Paul? Intriguing as I find the thought, it seems unlikely, but then why? To some degree it’s a question of how conscious Luke was when he wrote this. My first thought was that Luke may have gotten carried away, After reading Paul and the other two gospels, he may have drifted into authorial omniscience, where the writer knows what is happening and makes unsupported statements under the unquestioned assumption that the statement is simply self-evident, and so requires no explanation. I followed this line of argument for a fair distance down the rabbit-hole before realizing that the evidence was barely persuasive, let alone conclusive.

So what, then?

The aspect that most strikes me is the way that this sentence, or at least the second clause, sort of sticks our like the proverbial sore thumb. This is the part beginning with <<διὰ τὸ ἐγγὺς εἶναι>>, which I rendered as “on account of being near…” Then I looked at the grammar of the whole a bit more closely. “They having heard this” is a genitive absolute*, usually used to set up the circumstances while remaining more or less independent of the grammar of the rest of the sentence. That is, it can be removed without affecting how the remainder of the sentence operates. In this case, these are plural participles; hence translating as “they”. But “he” spoke the parable. The grammatical implication is that Jesus did this to some degree because “they”, presumably his followers, had done this hearing. Jesus speaking is a consequence, or even an effect of them hearing. But his decision to speak is also depending upon the proximity to Jerusalem. The preposition very clearly indicates a causal connexion; Jesus spoke specifically on account of, or due to the proximity to Jerusalem. The verb “to be” is an infinitive, which means there is no distinction to number, it’s neither singular nor plural; in English we would use a participle, “due to being near…” making it a statement of general conditions. But he also spoke because it seemed to them that the kingdom was approaching, so we’re back to the mental state of the followers. In short, the last part of this sentence is a bit of a jumble.

The conclusion I draw from this is that, at least, the last part of the sentence is a marginal gloss that became incorporated into the body of the text. That is, it was a note that someone scribbled in the margin of the manuscript as an explanatory note to himself, or to other readers that some subsequent scribe, perhaps copying a manuscript he could not read all that well, took the note to be an integral part of the text. I don’t offer this suggestion lightly, but perhaps I am not to be taken too seriously on this point. Arguing about the incorporation of glosses requires a degree of knowledge of Greek that is beyond mine. I can provide my general impression of the text, and how it seems to me that this is likely a gloss, but I cannot construct a truly persuasive argument. Bear in mind, however, that I have encountered this many times with Classical/pagan authors, so I am not completely unfamiliar with how this works. Bear in mind also that the incorporation of glosses does occur. In fact, I recently (within the last 5-10 years) read that the discovery of an early fragment of Isaiah showed that several sentences had been added to the text, likely as the result of a marginal gloss becoming incorporated into the body of the text. So it was much more than a random sentence like we have here. So this does happen, even with biblical texts. And at the risk of offending, it seems to me that biblical scholarship is much less likely to raise the question of incorporated glosses than academics working on pagan texts. This has been my criticism of biblical scholarship for some time: since most of them come from a theological/divinity background, the critical thinking has been blunted overmuch. This is how we got Q, after all. Too few people are willing to grasp the nettle and argue that Q is completely unsubstantiated.

So we have the assessment of a later copier who believes that it seems to the followers of Jesus that the kingdom is becoming apparent. Now let’s stop and ask how this fits in with other parts of the gospel. Recall that back in Chapter 17, not that long ago, Jesus told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God is among/within you. Do these two statements contradict each other? Or, if they aren’t explicitly contradictory in the sense of being mutually exclusive, do they tell a consistent story? Or, perhaps more accurately, do they describe a consistent theology? On the face of it, I would say not. Yes, there are ways to square the circle, and to take the specific words in figurative ways so that they do not actually say what they seem to say at first glance. And there is nothing wrong with doing this, I have no quarrel about doing this. In fact, I advocate taking the words as symbolic, referring to a Truth that is not necessarily factually accurate. But let’s ask what those hearing the message as preached by Luke & his brethren would think, how they would take what was said. If this gospel were being read, hearing several chapters in one sitting would hardly be a stretch. So it’s entirely conceivable that people could have heard “the kingdom is within/among you” and “it seemed to them that the kingdom was imminent” within the space of an hour or so. How would this have struck our hypothetical listener?

That is an interesting question. I suspect it would be confusing, because I find it a tad confusing; however, I’m looking at it from a theological point of view, and I’m expecting a consistent message. The relatively close juxtaposition does make very clear the extent to which what became Christian theology was created on a very ad hoc basis. No one sat down and explained this theology only after having thought this through and worked to create a consistent message based on a consistent view of what the term “Kingdom of God/the heavens/heaven” meant. No one came up with that definition and then crafted a text to explain that definition in clear, non-ambiguous language. Prior to starting this blog, I had sort of done some semi-casual, semi-serious reading of the NT, and had sort of tried to work through what it actually said. This proved to be a very unsatisfying exercise, and it is one of the primary reasons I undertook this undertaking of translating and commenting on the NT; the underlying purpose was to figure out just exactly what the thing says. And the farther I’ve gone, the more I realize that my initial impression was accurate: it is confusing, it is inconsistent, and it says a lot of different things at a lot of different times. This gives me a new appreciation for what specifically became the Roman Church, because I have a better appreciation of what Augustine and the rest were up against when they had to refute ideas that became deemed heretical. In fact, they had to invent that term. It also explains why the Roman Church has never been super keen on just anyone reading the Bible, which, in turn, helps explain why they resisted having the Bible translated into vernacular language. If it were left in Latin, a lot of people could not read it, and that was considered a good thing. Otherwise, letting just anyone read the darn thing could–and did–lead to a lot of people getting a lot of different ideas. By keeping a monopoly on Scripture, the Roman Church, and the Roman Church alone, could decide what it said. That way, you didn’t get people reading Mark’s Chapter 1 and deciding that Jesus was Adopted at that point. Nor did you get people reading Luke 19:9 and deciding that we can merit our salvation. 

 

*Latin does the same thing, but the case used is the ablative rather than the genitive. In fact, the ablative absolute is a fundamental aspect of Latin grammar & rhetoric. Below it comes to <<illis audientibus>>, “they having heard“. As an aside, of the Indo-European languages I’ve studied (a list limited to Greek, Latin, and the rudiments of German), Latin is the only one to have an ablative case. I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve never attempted to research this question.

11 Haec autem illis audientibus, adiciens dixit parabolam, eo quod esset prope Ierusalem, et illi existimarent quod confestim regnum Dei manifestaretur. 

About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on November 28, 2019, in Chapter 19, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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